Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell - Public domain
Oliver Cromwell - Public domain

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) was an English military man, who made history for ruling England as Lord Protector from 1650 until his death in 1658. A man of battle and conquest, he crushed the rebellions in Ireland and Scotland in blood, massacred entire towns and caused the deaths of several thousand Irish people.

Biography of Oliver Cromwell

Childhood in a bourgeois milieu

Oliver Cromwell - Public domain

Oliver Cromwell – Public domain

Oliver Cromwell is born on April 25, 1599 in Huntigdon, England. He grows up in a bourgeois family, directly descended from the Tudor dynasty and Thomas Cromwell. A few years later, Cromwell entered the prestigious University of Cambridge, and discovered the Puritan movement.

In 1620, he married Elisabeth Bourchier, and became interested in politics in England. He obtained a seat in Parliament in 1628, but lost it the following year when it was dissolved. From then on, Cromwell managed the family fortune, and was appointed Member of Parliament for the University of Cambridge at the Long Parliament in 1640. A convinced anti-Papist, Cromwell was soon noticed for his allegations against the Pope.

When the Civil War broke out in January 1642, Cromwell himself mounted an army, representing the armed arm of Parliament. He was known for his courage, his great mastery of the arts of war, but also for his great violence and propensity for cruelty. From then on, Cromwell became a prominent figure in the troubled political landscape of the time.

Cromwell becomes a direct opponent of Charles I..

In 1643, Cromwell forms a cavalry regime composed of Protestant Puritans, which will take the name of “Ironsides”. He then takes part on July 2, 1644 in the battle of Marston Moor, then of Newbury in October of the same year. His successive victories earned him the title of “Lieutenant General of the Cavalry” by the British Parliament.

Very quickly, the climate in the Kingdom of England deteriorates: the country is exhausted by more than 11 years of tyranny led by King Charles I, a fervent Protestant declaring open war on the Puritans. Cromwell thus decides to rise up against the king, in view of a forthcoming English revolution (1642 – 1649). Cromwell wants to be most intransigent, and effective in most of the battles led against the king’s supporters. Faced with so many defeats, Charles I eventually fled to the Isle of Wight in 1648, but was eventually captured and repatriated to London. A trial was held and the decision was made to execute the King by axe on January 30, 1649. Cromwell then proclaims the hour of the Republic (or Commonwealth).

The Cromwellian Conquest in Ireland and Scotland

Charles I being now dead and buried, Cromwell decides to focus on Ireland and Scotland, 2 countries torn by rebellions. The Irish and Scots intend indeed to free themselves from the English yoke, and do not cease since 1641 to fight in the name of the Irish Confederate Wars (1641-1653).

Cromwell went to Ireland in August 1649 with an army of 12,000 men. In a hurry, he ransacked many towns, killing Irish Catholics in turn, whether women, children or men. For more than 3 years, Cromwell purges Ireland, reducing the Irish population from 1,466,000 to 616,000. The losses are enormous, and the damage considerable: the towns of Drogheda, Wexford, Clonmel, Limerick, Waterford and Galway are besieged, partially destroyed and the population almost entirely decimated.

Cromwell then leaves Ireland for Scotland, leaving behind him a bloodless Ireland, where Catholics suffer a strong political and religious oppression through discriminatory penal laws. The British Protestant settlers settled there en masse, and asserted their supremacy over the Irish… The wealth gap widens tirelessly and quickly plunges the Irish into misery and famine…

Satisfied to have crushed the Irish rebellions, Cromwell thus goes to Scotland, crushing the Presbyterian rebellions and revolts and uniting Scotland to England by force.

In the face of so many victories, he was appointed “Lord Protector of the Republic of England, Scotland and Ireland” in 1653.

The Hour of Despotism

Cromwell reigns henceforth on the Kingdom and imposes an unprecedented puritan despotism. Always at war with the Catholics, he leads great campaigns of Catholic discrimination. In 1656, Cromwell creates a First Parliament, which he dissolves 10 days later. He recreates one in 1658, which, strongly purified, comes to ask Cromwell to become King of England. The latter refuses, but simply asks for the right to appoint his own successor: his son Richard Cromwell. At the end of this nomination, the Parliament is once again dissolved.

Cromwell still retains full power over England and holds the kingdom in his iron grip. He dies however the same year, on September 3, 1658 in London, following the Malaria (or a poisoning: the theories are numerous, but not verified). His son succeeded him, but the General and Governor of Scotland George Monck fomented a rebellion, wishing to re-establish the monarchy in England. In February 1660, Monck took London, dissolved Parliament and crowned Charles II on April 23, 1661.

Bitter and wishing to avenge the death of his father Charles I, Charles II asks for the exhumation of Oliver Cromwell’s body buried at Westminster Abbey, and has his body thrown in a well, except for his head, which, decapitated, is exposed on a stake in front of Westminster Abbey until 1685.